10 Self-Care Routines That Improved My Mental Health

Do you think too much at night and sleep too much in the morning? Know something is wrong, but can’t pinpoint the problem? You’re not alone.

The National Institute of Mental Health found that “nearly one in five American adults lives with a mental illness,” and the ratio is significantly higher among teens. An explanation can be found in psychology: according to the famous psychologist Erik Erikson, adolescence is the stage of psychosocial development of self-definition. It can be difficult and exhausting, leading to mental instability and health problems.

“A happy life does not consist in absence, but in mastering difficulties.”

-Helen Keller

Self-care is a form of coping, and coping is a form of mastery. Read on to discover 10 effective ways that have helped me, and could help you, achieve this mastery.

1. Conversations

Problems to tackle: impostor syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, depression, social withdrawal, social anxiety disorder, etc.

My story: Making the most of relationships with my family and friends reminded me how interesting, diverse and heartfelt our life experiences can be. Whether it was academics, extracurricular activities, relationships, or responsibilities, distancing myself from others came almost naturally. Eventually the stressful period passed and I knew it was time to recommit, but I didn’t know how.

Self-care: I created a mental list of people I felt grateful for and wanted to reconnect with. This included my family, whom I sat down with for longer conversations to talk about current affairs, daily hassles, or memorable experiences during meals and family time. This also included my close friends, whom I met to talk more about our personal (rather than academic) lives, as well as friends living in other cities who I wanted to catch up with. The initial awkwardness became the stepping stone to the strengthened relationships I am now engaged in. The first step to building strong relationships is always the hardest, but the road will level off once you get on the right track!

2. Food

Problems to tacklediet, eating disorders, apathetic attitude towards food/eating, insecurities, stress, etc.

My story: Eating at appropriate times and in healthy portions has helped me on my journey to self-care. For weeks I ate very little at meals with my family (especially cereals and other carbs) and feasted on my own around 10 p.m. every night, devouring boxes of crackers/candies and boxes of assorted nuts in a few days. I was unhappy with myself, swallowing the guilt with every bite, but I couldn’t stop.

Self-care: One night, I finished showering at 9 am and was in bed before 10 pm. I put on some sleep music to bring my body back to its usual circadian clock. During the same week, I also got into the habit of brushing my teeth right after dinner and eating longer (and therefore larger) meals. Cooking and baking have also helped me regain my taste for real food and a good balance of different nutrients.

3. Books

Problems to tackle: demotivation, emptiness, boredom, mood swings, etc.

My story: Books are worlds in the world. Ever since I entered high school, I noticed that I rarely read books for fun. They were always for English lessons or textbooks/readings for other subjects. My childhood title of being the family bookworm, flying through the Percy Jackson and Hunger Games series in days, was no more.

Self-care: I first recognized that reading was something I wanted to get back to, then I made a list of books I wanted to read. I also listed some of my favorite works, reminding myself of how powerful and life changing these stories were for me. To make sure it wasn’t a week-long fervor, I read books with my friend who had a similar experience. Together, like a book club, we both got back into the habit of reading a few chapters each day and being gifted with the wonders of the literary world.


Problems to tackle: emptiness, boredom, social withdrawal, depression, etc.

My story: Maybe it’s spring, maybe it’s sunshine, or maybe it’s just in my head, but seeing green grass and cherry blossoms helped me to heal. I noticed that my mood changed over time/season, being slightly more irritable when I woke up in the gloom rather than in the sun. I knew something had to change when the negativity lingered throughout the day.

Self-care: Know that it is not uncommon for this to happen. Studies have confirmed the correlation between weather and mood with biological and psychological evidence. As spring and summer approached, I started taking daily walks outside and photographing the sky and flowers for a “nature walks” photo album. This photo album motivated me to persist in this routine because even one day without a new photo would make the project incomplete. My family also bought new succulents to decorate the house, and sharing my progress with them and with friends has reinforced the joy I have derived from my closer connection to the natural world.

5. Music

Problems to tackle: mood swings, demotivation, feeling of lack of culture, questioning of one’s own musical tastes, sleep disorders, stress, etc.

My story: I wasn’t a big fan of music until I heard the good songs. My deep connection to music started when I tried listening to music for studying and sleeping to help me focus and rest better. They both helped me, made me jump on the ASMR bandwagon and opened me up to modern pop.

Self-care: One thing I love about music is its versatility: there’s always a genre, a playlist, and lyrics to match a certain mood. Similar to using it to help me study and sleep I played soft music when I needed a break and rap songs when I needed something to cheer me up . If you are looking for song recommendations, you can check this playlist of trending songs in 2021-2022.

6. Exercise

Problems to tackle: laziness, demotivation, insecurities, etc.

My story: “I don’t feel like it today, maybe tomorrow… I’m tired, a day off shouldn’t hurt…” But if these thoughts last, the consequences multiply. I took a break from my regular yoga + HIIT exercise routine for a day, which turned into a week and was removed from my daily duties. Other than emerging eating and sleeping issues, I didn’t experience many others as a result of the switch, and I only occasionally exercised at irregular intervals.

Self-care: Seemingly insignificant changes can plant the roots of more serious health problems in the future. When you start to notice changes in sleep/alertness or replace exercise with reduced eating, that’s a signal for change. I started keeping track of how many steps I took each day and setting daily reminders on my phone to exercise. By resuming my yoga + HIIT routine, I was rewarded with the benefits of regular physical activity.

7. Makeover

Problems to tackle: insecurities, impostor syndrome, social anxiety, boredom, demotivation, emptiness, etc.

My story: Change is a necessity, and it is only a matter of time before it takes place. Plagued by seniority and preparing for a transition to college life next year, I wanted a physical change to mark the start of the next stage of my life.

Self-care: I cleaned the house, redecorated my room and cut my hair! Simple changes to often overlooked parts of our lives can make a huge difference. Makeovers add a nice ritual feel to complement other external or internal events in our lives, making those times less difficult and more meaningful.

8. Sleep

Problems to tackle: sleep disorders, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders, etc.

My story: Studying until midnight before midterm exams is understandable, but sleeping late on a regular basis is not acceptable. Sleep is when our body recharges, thinks and grows. Sleep deprivation that lasted for a long time led me to the same health consequences that parents and teachers warned us about: headaches, low mood, fatigue, brain/slow body dysfunction, etc.

Self-care: Sleep early one night and you will fall in love with it. I fell asleep before 10 a.m. one night and woke up the next morning feeling awake, happy, and comfortable. Compared to my schedule of exam nights (which made me feel exhausted and grumpy), getting enough sleep provided me with a lot of energy throughout the day and boosted my mood and productivity.

9. Movies/documentaries

Problems to tackle: boredom, emptiness, feeling of lack of culture, etc.

My story: Have you ever felt ready for “me time” but didn’t know how to spend it? For a while I thought social media would suffice, but over time the guilt and emptiness began to weigh on the temporary pleasure. Instead, I leaned towards insightful films and documentaries.

Self-care: I had kept a list of movies for a while and used it to help me find the movies I wanted to watch. Paying for a Netflix, Hulu, or Apple TV subscription can introduce you to new TV series, movies, and documentaries. I recently finished watching the Oscar-winning film CODA and binge it Our planet documentary series during Earth Week last month. If you don’t have a movie list yet, there are plenty of must-see recommendations/lists you can browse online!

10. Smile 🙂

Problems to tackle: anger/frustration, anxiety, depression, emptiness, boredom, demotivation, etc.

My story: If there is nothing to be sad about, you should be happy. My “resting face” can make me appear unintentionally unapproachable and angry, so I learned to smile in my neutral state as well, which helped reduce such misunderstandings.

Self-care: Our brain associates smiles with feelings of joy, surprise and hope, so adopting this new routine has increased the presence of positivity throughout my day. Another fun fact: smiling even helps you live longer!

“Self-care doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”

– LP Krest

Spending time alone and taking breaks is not a shame or a guilt. Consider this: by taking care of yourself, you’ll be more ready to interact with others and engage in experiences the world has to offer, a win-win situation. The 10 self-care routines listed above are meant to be a guide only – it’s more important to find what works for you personally and to maintain these healthy routines for long periods of time. Believe, and you can achieve! ♥